THE mayor of a Florida town where a condo tower collapsed, killing 10 and leaving more than 150 missing, is trying to track down a little girl he saw crying and praying next to the rubble.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he'd been touring the site of the collapsed building last night when he spotted the girl sitting alone on a chair, looking down at her phone.
Burkett said the girl looked familiar to him. He said one of her parents was lost in the collapse at the Champlain building, which fell just after 1.40 am on Thursday morning.
She had been staying with her other parent in a different part of the residential complex that is still standing, he said.
“I knelt down and asked her, I said, ‘So what are you doing? Are you OK?’” the mayor recalled.
The girl, he said, was clutching her phone and reading a Jewish prayer to herself, “sitting at the site, by where one of her parents presumably is."
“That really brought it home to me,” Burkett said. “She wasn’t crying. She was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to.”
Burkett said he's going to find the girl so he can tell her "we’re all here for her, and we’re going to do the best we can to bring out that parent.”
The mayor described the collapse as "horrific" and "disturbing" and said the tragedy has had a profound effect on all who call the close-knit community home.
Burkett shared the personal anecdote during a joint press conference with a number of other officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
In her remarks, Levine Cava confirmed that the death toll had risen to 10 after another body was pulled from the wreckage earlier this morning.
A total 151 residents of the fallen condo remain missing, she said.
Some engineers looking into the failure of the 12-story condo tower have suggested the collapse appeared to have started somewhere at the base of the building.
Levine Cava told reporters that a "thorough and full investigation into this tragic event" will be carried out, however, search and rescue operations remain the top priority at this time.
"We're going to continue and work ceaselessly to exhaust every possible option in our search. Right now our top priority is search and rescue and find the people," she said.
"They're out there with every resource that they need to ensure that they can search this area," she said of rescue crews, adding that recovery efforts had continued throughout the night.
Such resources include sonar scanners, sniffer dogs, infrared cameras, and heavy machinery, the mayor said.
Levine Cava also warned that the numbers of the dead and missing are "very fluid" and will continue to change in the days and hours ahead.
"We will give the best updates as soon as we have them," she said. "Families will be the first to hear and they were today after we recovered this tenth victim."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also pledged that rescue operations will not cease "until there is a resolution."
Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said rescue crews are working 12 hours shifts as the desperate search for survivors continues.
The last live person rescued was on Thursday, just hours after the collapse.
"They're working 12 hours at a time, midnight to noon, noon to midnight," Patronis told reporters.
"They come from Tallahassee, they come from Orlando, they come from Tampa, they come from Israel, they come from Mexico, they come from Jacksonville, they come from Fort Myers."
Maggie Castro of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue stressed on Monday that officials know "time is of the essence."
"We're still in a rescue mode, but as you can imagine, we're starting to understand that it's going to be less likely that we're going to be finding survivors."
According to Castro, some frustrated family members of the missing have started directing their anger towards rescuers.
"They're looking for someone to blame. There is no one they can blame at this point. The emotions have to go somewhere. We understand that," Castro said.
"We've asked the families that if you need to vent, you [can] vent at us."
Monday's press conference came just one day after Miami Beach declared a state of emergency on Sunday following similar declarations from Miami-Dade and Gov. DeSantis.
President Joe Biden also signed an emergency declaration over the building collapse last week and ordered federal assistance to the area.
An investigation as to what caused the collapse remains ongoing.
The building was built in 1981 and was undergoing roof work for about 30 days before the disaster struck in the early hours of June 24.
A 2018 engineering report done by Morabito Consultants claimed that the building's "failed waterproofing" was causing "major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas."
Engineers assessing the collapse say early indications suggest the building failed as the result of a "foundation-related matter."
“It does appear to start either at or very near the bottom of the structure,” Donald O. Dusenberry, a consulting engineer with 45 years of experience investigating structural collapses, told the New York Times.
“It’s not like there’s a failure high and it pancaked down," he continued, adding that "you certainly can’t rule out a design or construction error that has survived for 40 years.”
President Biden believes there should be a full investigation into the collapse and wants the federal government to be involved in it, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
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